Should I Go to Law School? The Truth About Law School
The Truth About Law School BETA!
People often apply to law school without fully understanding what it means to attend law school or to be a lawyer and without fully knowing themselves and what they want. This website can't help with the personal issues, but it can, with your contribution, help educate potential law students about the decision to attend law school. This website is intended to be a source of information to help those potential law students understand as much as possible about law school and being a lawyer, so they can make an educated decision about whether to apply and what to do after. Please help by contributing truths or voting up the most useful ones.
Truths About Law School
After graduating from law school, you are going to be a lawyer.
At some point, someone started a rumor that a law degree is flexible. Someone told you that you could go to law school and then do something non-legal with it, something interesting, even something fun. You cannot. When you graduate from law school, you become a lawyer. And being a lawyer may not be as fun as you think.
Law school can be right, if you know what you're getting into.
Law school is good for people who do their research, know that they want to be a lawyer and know what it means to be a lawyer. I work in the public interest and I love my job. I do good every day. I don't get paid much, and I'm okay with that. I can't imagine being happier.
Being a lawyer probably won't be as meaningful or lucrative as you hope.
You may think that as a lawyer you can do meaningful, important work. You may think that as a lawyer, you can make a lot of money. You might be right, but you are probably wrong. The meaningful jobs are very difficult to get, and if you are able to get one, you will barely be able to afford to live. In addition, the lucrative jobs are also difficult to get. Therefore, most lawyers have jobs that are not meaningful or lucrative, and very few have jobs that are both.
You may not find a job at all.
Even if you concede that your job won't be meaningful or lucrative, you still may not find a job at all. The world already has too many lawyers. Not every person with a law degree is able to find a job as a lawyer.
Being a lawyer probably does not entail the day-to-day tasks that you think.
Before going to law school, you should know what lawyers do during their days. Law has many different practice areas, and a lawyer in each area performs different tasks on a day-to-day basis. You might think that litigators are in court arguing, corporate attorneys are negotiating deals and entertaining clients, and real estate lawyers are negotiating deals and assessing projects. You'd be wrong. Most of them are buried in papers, reading boring documents and researching boring law.
If you are able to find a job as a lawyer, you will have to work with other lawyers, who are often unpleasant people.
If anyone ever tells you that you should be a lawyer, be offended. Being told that you should be a lawyer is not a compliment, especially when being told by a parent. If you are a ten-year-old child, and your parent tells you that you should be a lawyer, your parent is telling you that you are argumentative, annoying, unpleasant, and excessively competitive, that you think you're right all the time and unable to admit when you're wrong. If you become a lawyer, you will be surrounded by lawyerly people, you won't like it, and you will inevitably become more lawyerly.
Lawyers, like any business, must make money. For many lawyers, making money means making lawsuits.
Plaintiffs' lawyers don't make money without bringing lawsuits. (And, obviously, defendants' lawyers need lawsuits also.) Therefore, plaintiffs' lawyers must go out and find business, and create lawsuits to make a living. That means that the basis for the claim is less important, and the potential to make money from the claim is vital.
Law schools exist to make money
Law schools often subsidize other departments at their school, or exist as standalone for-profit enterprises. Because they have more applicants (customers) than they can possibly admit, the market will bear very high tuition. Law schools do not exist to help their students pass the bar or get a job.
Lawyers need everything done their way. For example, lawyers claim they are giving you "edits," but they are actually giving you "myways."
If you become a lawyer, you will have to work with and for lawyers. Besides being advocates for their clients, lawyers are advocates for themselves. When you are working for them, they will advocate for their view of why they do things the "correct" way. Doing it their way will be the "correct" way, whether or not it is actually the correct way. Your way could be equally correct or even better than their way. So, though they may be telling you that they are giving you "edits" to your brief or your agreement, they are really giving you "myways."
Plaintiffs very often have no legitimate claim.
Plaintiffs' lawyers usually represent plaintiffs who are just looking to make money. Some plaintiffs have cases with factual support. Most do not. Most are either lying or had something bad happen to them, but that something bad does not give them the right to sue. People go to court these days to make money and make themselves feel better. Court is not for that.
Defendants often just pay the plaintiffs' lawyers' extortion schemes. Doesn't make you feel like you're doing justice.
Defendants' lawyers usually represent companies that ignore justice and pay the plaintiffs (and their lawyers) to go away instead of standing up for what is right. Usually, the company's decision is the correct decision, because otherwise the plaintiff's lawyer will cost the company many times more money than the settlement would. So, bring a lawsuit, earn some money. That's the plan.
Lawyers are advocates. Advocates are annoying.
As a lawyer, your job will be to advocate for a position. No matter whether that position is right or wrong. No matter whether that position is reasonable or unreasonable. Being a lawyer is like being a lobbyist, both groups must represent the client who pays, not the client who is correct. Sacrificed on the altar of advocacy are truth, reason, and altruism.
After graduating from law school, you will not be debt-free until age 55
Unless you have a trust fund or rich parents, you will be taking out loans to pay for law school. The entire bill for the education, living, and other expenses runs about $160,000. Now, unless you get a job at a top NYC law firm (which will be 1-4% of you), you will be 55 years old before you are debt free. Enjoy.
A legal career can be a decent, pleasant way to support your family.
I spent a few years at a big firm and now work at a small firm doing corporate law. My hours aren't terrible, probably billing 35-40 a week, and working 45-50 a week. I make over $200k a year. I support my family and don't mind my job at all. My matters aren't always fun, but plenty are interesting and I really don't mind the work at all. Tough to ask for much more from a job.
According to Your Law School, You May Not Exist
Law schools report on placement percentages and salaries every year. This gets turned in to a big magazine that ranks law schools, and the better your ranking, the more people who want to go to your law school. I graduated in 1996 and got a job making $10/hour that a new guy at career services said was not a bad offer. I turned in my reporting form and a few weeks later got a call from the head of career placement telling me that he had made a mistake, he thought I was a 2L and this was a summer job, and that if I took this job it was against their advice. I had already taken the job. I knew other people taking jobs for the same amount. The next year I got a glossy report in the mail saying that my class had a high placement percentage and that the lowest paid graduate made $34k/year, and that was a public interest job. Thankfully, since I don't exist to them, I'm not going to be donating any money to them in the future.
2 Types of People Go to Law School
There are 2 types of people that go to law school : 1) those that want to make money 2) those that want to make the world a better place.
Re 1 - with the changes in the economy, the risk/reward calculation isn't what it used to be. Who wants to be $150K in debt and not able to find a decent job.
Re 2 - these jobs don't pay much AND they are hard to find. These are usually working for non-profits or government positions that don't have a lot of money. It is tought to pay back your loans and have a decent quality of life with one of these. Many of these people end up "selling out" and taking a private practice job when it is time to raise a family.
Knowledge is never a bad thing - but a legal education is currently not worth the price.
Law school does not teach you how to be a lawyer.
You will not graduate law school knowing how to practice law. They say that law school teaches you how to "think like a lawyer". This postulation is utter nonsense, because law school already attracts people that think like lawyers. In fact, a required entrance test, the LSAT, ranks you on how well you think like a lawyer and is the most heavily weighted part of your application. I can say with confidence that I use literally (correct usage) nothing I learned in law school in my job as a lawyer for one of the ten biggest firms in the world, and that in this regard, law school is undeniably useless.
The Lawyer Bubble
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that only 73,600 legal jobs will be created this decade, 50,000 law students graduate each year, and 85% of them graduate with around $100,000 in debt. Among those lucky enough to find a job that requires a JD, only one in ten will end up working for the sort of six-figure salary necessary to begin paying off that debt.
Steven J. Harper
Author of "The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis"
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